Pain in the head and neck or dysfunction of the jaw are very common conditions and could be easily resolved or might be complex, with a lot of different factors causing it. Jaw pain, commonly known as “TMJ”, but more correctly called TMD or Temporomandibular Disorder can be very frustrating to experience and treat, depending on the circumstances.
Symptoms of Temporomandibular Disorder or TMJ Pain
- Headache / Migraine
- Jaw joint pain
- Limited mouth opening
- Ear congestion
- Ringing in the ears
- Difficulty swallowing
- Loose teeth
- Sleep apnea
- Clenching or grinding
- Jaw joint clicking or popping
- Chewing difficulties
- Eye pain, ear pain
- Postural problem - neck, back pain
- Tingling of the fingers
- Heat- and cold-sensitive teeth
- Nervousness or insomnia
- Facial pain
How can all of these symptoms be related to the teeth and bite?
The lower jaw has two joints or Temporomandibular Joints (TMJs). The TMJ has a condyle of the head that rests in a depression right in front of both ears (if you put your fingers in front of your ears and open and close your jaw, you can feel the joints moving down and forward as you open). The lower jaw is held in place by the joint and ligaments, muscles, and tendons.
If the bite is misaligned from acute trauma or a long-term 'bad bite,' the soft tissues around the joint can be compressed and inflamed.
This TMJ pain can cause symptoms of ear pain as the complex nerves and delicate muscles are out of balance, sending pain to the neck, shoulders, and back. This is known as referred pain.
What causes TMJ disorders?
The temporomandibular joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions. The parts of the bones that interact in the joint are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk, which normally keeps the movement smooth. Painful TMJ disorders can occur if:
- The disk erodes or moves out of its proper alignment
- The joint's cartilage is damaged by arthritis
- The joint is damaged by a blow or other impact
In many cases, however, the cause of TMJ disorders isn't clear, and some risk factors include various types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, jaw injury, chronic grinding of teeth, and connective tissue disease.
Treating TMJ Facial Pain
The best treatment options for your unique case will be affected by important factors like whether this pain has flared up suddenly and is acute or if it is long-term chronic pain. You have two choices to consider – treat the pain and mask the symptoms or treat the underlying factors causing the pain.